By Kathleen Gilbert

NOTRE DAME, Indiana, March 23, 2009 ( – In an interview with Notre Dame’s “Observer” newspaper, Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins has responded to a deluge of criticism from Catholics and pro-lifers for the school’s commencement invitation to President Barack Obama.

Both the White House and the Notre Dame website announced late Friday afternoon that Obama had agreed to offer the commencement address and receive an honorary law degree at the school on May 17.

Jenkins said he does not “foresee circumstances” that would cause Notre Dame to rescind the invitation. Over the weekend, thousands of Catholics, including Notre Dame alumni, set the Internet ablaze and overwhelmed Notre Dame’s switchboard with petitions to withdraw the offer.

“We have invited the president and he’s honored us by accepting,” said Jenkins, adding that the school was “delighted” to have Obama join the list of presidents that have addressed Notre Dame.

Responding to outrage that the nation’s premier Catholic institution of higher learning invited Obama, who has been called the most pro-abortion president in history, Jenkins said the invitation “should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions” on life issues.

“We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him,” Jenkins said. “You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them show respect for them and listen to them.”

Jenkins said that the school wants to recognize Obama’s “very real and significant accomplishments and his leadership,” while at the same time wanting to initiate “a positive engagement on the issues we care about.” “I think if he is going to reconsider his views, I think Notre Dame is the best possible place to begin that process,” he said.

Jenkins also addressed the USCCB’s 2004 directive that Catholic schools “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions,” arguing that the honorary degree for Obama “is not intended to condone or endorse his position on specific issues regarding life.” “That’s not what we’re honoring,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins called President Obama “an inspiring leader” who has addressed the nation’s challenges with “intelligence, courage and honesty.” He also indicated that he spoke with Notre Dame’s Bishop D’Arcy about the affair, but did not speculate how the bishop would respond. The bishop has yet to issue a statement on the controversy.

The Observer article notes that Jenkins stands by earlier statements criticizing the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), which launched a website immediately following the Friday announcement urging Catholics to oppose the invite. (

In an April 2008 Wall Street Journal article, Jenkins had scoffed at CNS, which did not include Notre Dame in its list of schools faithful to Catholic teaching. “The Newman Society has no ecclesiastical standing and no academic standing,” said Jenkins. “For me, it resembles nothing more than a political action committee.”

To contact Notre Dame:
Phone: (574) 631-5000
email form:

Notre Dame Fellows:
Rev. E. William Beauchamp, C.S.C., President, U. of Portland
(503) 943-7101

Patrick F. McCartan, Senior partner, Jones Day
(216) 586-7272
Email: [email protected]

William M. Goodyear, CEO, Navigant Consulting
main: (312) 583-5700

list of all Notre Dame Fellows:

To contact the USCCB:

Cardinal Francis George, President
Archdiocese of Chicago
phone: 312-751- 8200
email: [email protected]

Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, Chairman, Committee on Education
Diocese of Worcester
phone: 508-791-7171
committee email: [email protected]

To contact Notre Dame’s bishop:
Bishop John D’Arcy, Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese
Fort Wayne Chancery
phone: (260) 422-4611

See related coverage:

Catholic Notre Dame University to Give Obama Honorary Degree on May 17, Against USCCB Policy